Health precautions vital with village virus outbreak

More than 30 cases of suspected norovirus plagued the residents and staff of Evelyn Page retirement village in Orewa last month, confining people to their homes for more than a week.

Noroviruses are highly infectious and cause stomach or intestinal infection, leading to vomiting and diarrhoea.

Ryman Healthcare spokesperson David King says the cases began with two people on June 16. Over the following week, this rose to a total of 34 suspected cases, and by June 25 there were still three people who had the bug.

Mr King says in line with District Health Board requirements, people who are ill were isolated to stop the spread. All communal activities were suspended, such as meals in the dining room, entertainment activities and access to the gardens.

The facility must be clear of the bug for at least 48 hours before such measures can be relaxed.

Mr King says residents have been patient about the restrictions. One of them who contacted Hibiscus Matters, but did not want to be named, said she was not allowed to go into the garden for a walk. At the time, she had been confined to her residence for almost a week.

Medical Officer of Health, Dr Jay Harrower, says that the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) worked with Evelyn Page to control the spread of the gastro bug.

“Given the high number of cases, the affected areas within the facility were temporarily under lockdown and residents not permitted to leave,” Dr Harrower says. “ARPHS advised Evelyn Page that they need only isolate residents who are symptomatic while the outbreak is on-going.”

He says guidelines for the management of this disease also advise not allowing visitors in during an outbreak, as they are likely to get ill and can bring in other diseases, infecting residents who already have a weakened immune system because of gastroenteritis.

However, Mr King says visits can be very important to both families and residents, so Evelyn Page advised families of the situation but did not prevent visits from occurring. “Visitors could come in during the outbreak, but they had to take precautions,” Mr King says.

Dr Harrower says the facility has followed standard public health practice, which is essential as older people are particularly vulnerable to serious illness and death from gastroenteritis.

“ARPHS frequently supports residential care facilities to manage outbreaks of gastroenteritis,” Dr Harrower says. “Most of these are due to norovirus. This virus spreads very easily where people living in close quarters such as rest homes. Our health protection officers check infection control, giving the all clear when no further cases are likely to occur.”


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